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Column: The Police State of Our Schools (New York Metro)

By Donna Lieberman — This spring, 13-year-old Chelsea Fraser scribbled “okay” on her school desk. In another time or another city, she might have been sent to the principal’s office. Instead, she was arrested and held at a police precinct for over three hours.

And Biko Edwards, a junior at one of the worst schools in NYC, stayed to speak to a teacher after class and ran off late to chemistry lab without a pass. A school official ignored his plea to go to class and when Biko kept going, a police officer grabbed Biko, threw him up against a brick wall, maced him and put him under arrest. Biko ended up in the emergency room — and spent over 28 hours in jail.

And two Harlem teens were stopped by police who refused to believe that they were on their way to a Manhattan private school to take exams. The girls, the cops said, must instead be truants. They were held at a truancy center for two hours and missed their exam.

These are all young people of color who were perceived by the police as dangerous. Just as black and Latino men are routinely stopped by the police without evidence of wrongdoing, youth — especially youth of color — are being unfairly and unlawfully treated as criminals.

Part of the problem is specific to the schools. Kids have a right to attend safe schools, but the NYPD has turned some schools into a hostile environment. Since1998, the NYPD has assumed complete control over school safety and installed a massive police presence. Now, every day, over 93,000 NYC school children face a gauntlet of metal detectors, bag searches and pat downs by police who are inadequately trained, insufficiently supervised and too often belligerent and disrespectful.

The New York Civil Liberties Union recently released the report Criminalizing the Classroom: The Over-Policing of NYC Schools, which documents this problem and recommends reforms. Many of the reforms needed in the schools must be applied to policing kids in the streets.

Too often, the NYPD treats young people as suspects — not because they’ve done something wrong but because they live in the “wrong” communities or go to the “wrong” schools. Authority over school discipline must be restored to educators, and School Safety Agents must be trained to treat students respectfully.

Police who violate people’s rights — in school or on the street — must be accountable to an effective Civilian Complaint Review Board.

Another school year has begun. Must we see more Bikos?

As bold as the spirit of New York, we are the NYCLU.
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Civil Liberties Union